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June 2018: Killers of the Flower Moon (Grann)

posted Jul 14, 2018, 9:29 AM by East Bay Smith Club   [ updated Jul 14, 2018, 9:29 AM ]

At our June meeting, seven of us gathered at Charmaine’s house to discuss David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.  At the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the Osage nation stretched across much of the central part of the United States, from Kansas to the Rockies.  However, by the 1870’s the Osage were forced to sell the last of their land to white settlers.  They used the proceeds from this sale to buy land in Oklahoma that they hoped was too rocky and sterile to be attractive to the whites, and indeed few settlers showed any interest until substantial oil fields were discovered there in 1917.  By the 1920’s, the Osage had become some of the richest people in the world.  However, this astounding wealth did little to protect them, for as more outsiders poured into the area, numerous members of the tribe were murdered and/or died in mysterious circumstances.  Local authorities and various private detectives hired by the Osage were unable to solve the crimes, and several key witnesses also met grisly ends.  Finally, as the death toll rose, the federal government sent in investigators from the newly created FBI, who worked together with the Osage to uncover a most horrifying and deadly conspiracy.


Apparently, in the 1920’s the nation was fascinated by these murders and followed the resulting trials closely.  However, in the intervening decades the crimes seem to have been largely forgotten, and no members of our group had heard of them before.  Perhaps this is not surprising, considering our nation’s general amnesia about the persecution and destruction of Native American nations.   Nonetheless, Grann’s book has succeeded in bringing these events once more to the national consciousness, and his book has been on “The New York Times Bestsellers” list for weeks.    


Certainly, Grann does an admirable job of setting out the history of these terrible crimes.  In fact, his work is so diligent that he ends up uncovering details (and likely perpetrators!) that the original investigation missed.  However, this comprehensive analysis also makes the book depressing tough to read at times.    It is difficult to dwell on just how vicious and cold-hearted people can be. 


Nonetheless, in the end most of us were glad we had read the book, and we found it interesting to discuss why, at this particular moment, so many Americans are finding it worthy to revisit this dark time in our history.    Are we finally ready to own up to the genocide of America’s native population and to make amends?  After all, the book demonstrates that the effects of such trauma do not easily fade and that they are felt in subsequent generations.  Given the current political climate, are we keen to find fault with the federal and state governments whose policies made the conspiracies possible and made it impossible for the Osage to protect themselves?  Alternatively, are we simply eager to find heroes in the FBI, an organization that has recently come under attack.  Or, is it that our current turbulent times are leading us to turn to such a “true crime” tale as an attention grabbing means of escapism? 


Perhaps, it is ultimately not that important to understand why the book has become so popular.  Maybe it is enough that the victims of these crimes are remembered once more and that we recognize that the justice they deserve has not yet been fully delivered.  Perhaps humans have a moral duty to remember certain things, a responsibility which literature, both non-fiction and non-fiction, can help us fulfill.